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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, March 1, 2012
Great Expectations comes to 1960s’ America on stage
In adapting Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations for the stage, Chad Larabee confronted his fear of tainting a classic work by one of the most popular authors in history. But, since the production opened last weekend at the University at Albany, he has been pleased with the response.
“I only began writing it about eight months ago, so we’ve been actively revising it as we’ve gone through the rehearsal process,” Larabee said this week. “It’s always been one of my favorite novels, and I just saw these parallels between what Dickens was writing and our pursuit of the American Dream, and how that dream can become corrupted when we try and keep up with the Joneses instead of remaining true to what we really want. So, it seemed like it was a good piece to build on.”
And, as literature fans around the world just celebrated Dickens’s 200th birthday on Feb. 7, Larabee thought this was the right time to bring the production together.
The novel, published in 1861, tells the story of an orphan named Philip Pirrip, or Pip, who travels to London to become a gentleman after receiving a generous sum of money from a benefactor whose identity is initially a secret.
But Larabee made some adjustments to the plot and characters that he thought were appropriate, as a man’s journey towards becoming a gentleman “doesn’t really resonate in this country,” he said.
“It’s really about his ascent through different class structures,” Larabee said of Pip. Referring to the character in his adaptation, he went on, “So, for this, he’s sent to Georgetown University to become educated. That’s a fairly big change, because I’m moving away from the novel with that second act, that it’s more about him fulfilling that dream of being educated, and what comes with that.”
Pip’s name has been changed to Hub Clay, after an actor and friend of Larabee, and the setting has shifted as well, as much of the action takes place in the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, in the 1960s.
“That’s part of why it moved from Great Britain to central Virginia and Washington, D.C. it was sort of a transformative period for our country,” said Larabee of the 1960s. “I was actually directing in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and I realized it was a perfect location to set this production.”
Miss Haversham, a wealthy old woman who Pip suspects is his benefactor in the novel, is now Miss Piedmont, a plantation owner. Her adopted daughter, Estella, with whom Pip develops a powerful relationship, is now Stella.
“There’s also a subplot in the play about mining for coal, which Dickens touched on in different ways, and I thought that would have a real resonance with us as a country as well,” Larabee added.
He is grateful for the cast and crew’s role in the creative process.
“They’ve really been game for the process of developing the new play; up till a few days ago, they were getting new pages, and a few scenes have been cut,” said Larabee. “They’ve been really essential to realizing the story.”
He plans to workshop the play in Virginia this summer, and he has been discussing the production with various regional theaters.
“Hopefully,” Larabee said, “this play will have a life well beyond this production in Albany.”
Great Expectations will continue its run at the University at Albany’s main theater tonight, March 1, and Friday, March 2, at 8 p.m.; and there will be a matinee performance on Saturday, March 3, at 2 p.m.
Tickets are $8 for students, faculty, and senior citizens, and $12 for everyone else.
By Zach Simeone
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